Mayor Riley launches re-election bid with 'listening sessions'

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, left, listens as West Ashley resident Kelly Hamlette, right, talks about discipline in public schools. Hamlette's sister Cherlania Brown, second from left, and Geraldine Rivers, third from left, also listen. The gathering in Rivers' apartment was the first of six "listening sessions" that Riley planned Monday to launch his mayoral campaign.

The Lowcountry should be a lot cleaner today thanks to efforts of volunteers who spent Saturday picking up trash and other debris from highways, parks, beaches and marshes.

Thousands of helpers participated in the Great American Cleanup, a national event that included dozens of local litter pickups and beautification projects. About 800 school children spent the morning on service projects as part of Tricounty Youth Service Day, a program of Trident United Way.

For employees of Boeing Co., the North Charleston jet assembly plant opening next year, the event marked the first local community service project, according to John Wellington, environmental health and safety manager for the company.

It also had an added benefit: "I wanted all the people who relocated from (Boeing's factory in) Seattle to experience pluff mud," said Wellington, a Lowcountry native.

And that they did.

Timing their event with low tide, about 80 employees and their families waded through the marsh around Charleston's Waterfront Park, collecting bags of garbage, soda cans, liquor bottles, clothing, fishing supplies and even a barnacle-covered bicycle.

"Some of these people are sinking up to their waists," said Boeing executive Marty Chamberlin, a Seattle transplant. Pointing to his white athletic shoes, he said, "As you can see, I am not fully prepared for this."

Chamberlin said he realizes there were easier projects his company could have participated in, but "this is not about easy jobs. This is about the impact we can have on the community. This is a very visible part of Charleston, and it's a great chance for us to show our appreciation to the community by giving back."

Boeing employee Cliff Jones seized the opportunity to also involve his wife, Shanna, and daughters, Brittany, 17, and Chrissy, 15.

Chrissy, who said she had picked up "lots of gross things," said the experience drove home a point.

"They have all these trash cans out here," she said. "I don't know why people don't use them."

The final tally of volunteers, bags of trash and most unusual items collected will be available in about a week, said Jennifer Scales, project manager for Keep Charleston Beautiful.

Last year, nearly 3,000 people took part, collecting more than 50,000 pounds of trash and 3,900 pounds of recyclable material.

For Trident Youth Service Day, which is part of the worldwide Global Youth Service Day, local students participated in projects that included beach sweeps, neighborhood cleanups, visiting the elderly, and making posters for the Charleston Animal Society and cards for soldiers overseas, according to Sally Burnett, community volunteer coordinator for Trident United Way.

Teams worked all morning on their projects, then met at the North Charleston High School football field for a Celebration Rally that included lunch and games.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or at